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On missed chances and opportunities

By Paul T. Shipale
Still hampered by the vulnerable economy and after his punchy inaugural address, President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address to be uncompromising in his calls for lawmakers to offset across-the-board spending cuts.

Indeed, President Obama delivered his fourth State of the Union address on Tuesday night, a high-profile opportunity in which he laid out his plans, offered the public an outline for job creation, and hopes for his second term though much of his blueprint included elements we have heard before.

For the Republicans, SOTU 2013 "was less a presidential olive branch than a congressional cattle prod." While there is still enough second term left for him to get things done before Washington turns its attention to 2014 elections, about a year from now, this was Obama's best last chance to set the agenda for a divided Washington.

Presidents often use the big annual address to lay out an unexpected new initiative but those who expected to hear the Namibian President announcing in his speech, at both the first Cabinet session and the opening of the 7th session of the 5th Parliament, or even hinting at his next big plans as well as the legacy he wants to leaves behind, were disappointed as the President missed that opportunity to do so. I guess he is probably saving it for his State of the Nation Address.

One thing is for sure, if the President wants our parliament "not only (to) serve to deepen democracy, but... also (to) monitor developments and hold to account the Executive in implementing the mandates entrusted to them (sic) by the electorate... strengthen our democratic institutions and entrench transparency in our country... for the promotion of democracy and good governance" as he stated in his opening speech of the 7th Session of the 5th Parliament, then "the work of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which has the task of reinforcing accountability on Accounting Officers in the execution of their accounting responsibilities (sic)" should not only be strengthened and enhanced but also ensure that there is a real separation of powers between the three organs of the State, but that is a topic for another day. After the 5th SWAPO Party Congress, Philemon Wise Immanuel wrote a piece, entitled; President Pohamba struck a silent revolution'. Wise said, 'merely a day and a half after the conclusion of the 5th SWAPO Party Congress, on December the 2nd, 2012, (the President) could not spare a moment to prove to every Namibian that he is in charge of state affairs... (as) he exercised his signature of power and authority through a silent revolution that struck everyone with surprise when he reshuffled his Cabinet..' Wise further elaborated that President Pohamba 'has proven himself as a leader who bases his success not on ego and force of character but on calculated thoughts and actions'.

Indeed, it is not often that a President oozes such an aura of power. Undoubtedly, last year seemed to be an Annus Mirabilis for both President Zuma of the ANC ruling Party in South Africa and President Pohamba of the ruling SWAPO Party here in Namibia. Indeed last year, it was a year in which President Zuma outplayed almost all his competitors and adversaries. The growing confidence of both Presidents is evident in the composition of the latest Cabinet by President Pohamba and the ANC's new executive committee - here known as the Politburo, which serves as the party's highest decision-making structure between conferences- is now almost exclusively made up of President Zuma's allies. However, how the leadership will deal with the vexing issue of disunity will determine the success of their terms and the legacy they will leave behind and whether we will have an annus mirabilis or annus horribilis.

Already, we started off the year on a sad note with the passing on of the late Honourable Minister of Education, Dr Abraham Iyambo, arguably one of the youngest Cabinet Ministers and a rising promising star as a politician-technocrat and a Member of Parliament. His absence from the chambers, at both the first Cabinet session and the opening of the 7th session of the 5th Parliament was undoubtedly palpable. The seat of the late Minister is yet to be filled as it stood empty with a bouquet of flowers, a reminder that he is no more. Indeed he is already sorely missed and the pain of grief just doesn't seem to go away easily, yet there are those reported to have said to others "you don't have a Minister to protect you anymore" while others were heard saying after the Congress "we have beaten the dogs".

Not long ago, a certain 'Walya Shakadila', when President Pohamba took Office, wrote that "Namibia is speedily moving to an era that would sadly end in an anticlimax...

The academically challenged have a phobia of and are extremely allergic to intellectuals... These sycophants and bootlickers who are mainly functional illiterates try to undermine and politically sideline the intellectuals... and form a core group from which to draw key cabinet members... Oom Lucas Pohamba is now presented with this fait accomplit. How can he run the government with these hosts of illiterates and stooges...?" asked 'Walya Shakadila'.

Alfredo Hengari was spot on when he cautioned the winning camp to look beyond victory 'because victories can easily turn into exclusion and revenge', as exemplified by the 4th Congress which turned into a ghastly purge. Hengari further said; 'politics within the context of a political party is about choices, and by fighting for, and articulating our choices we become unconsciously factional and at times dangerously sectarian'.

'There are undoubtedly those who are baying for the blood of those who did not make it', said Hengari who further urged for the top leadership to consistently appeal against intolerance and sectarianism.

Notwithstanding these pleas from Hengari and contrary to the appeal 'to guard against reprisals and vilification' and despite talks of 'unity of purpose and action' and 'an inclusive society where no one should feel left behind', the exclusion of young leaders from the top structures simply means that we are unwittingly setting into motion forces destructive to our future and long-term prosperity as a society that is increasingly more concerned with serving current needs than addressing the future. In other words, we are tilting more towards a 'now' society, as opposed to nurturing for tomorrow. Nevertheless, this was probably done with the aim to have 'a leadership with the same line of thinking and moving in the same direction as well as working as a team', as the Prime Minister said in an interview that appeared in the Windhoek Observer of Friday 30 November, 2012. When asked why he has highlighted that he wanted delegates to the congress to elect uncle Nangolo Mbumba as SG alongside himself, the PM responded saying, 'if you elect a VP and a SG who do not see eye to eye, you are making a mistake by paralysing the party and eventually the country as you are encouraging the emergence of two centres of power'. That is why he wanted likeminded people to work together 'as members of the Central Committee and the Politburo' even if he however cautioned that as a leader, he could work with whoever the party elects.

My only concern is how to deal with the real or perceived ostracizing of the losing camps. That is why I suggest that before they think of legacies; both Presidents should perhaps first think of bringing the troops together.

It is time that both Presidents, who have won the political chess board and numbers game, use the same strategy to tackle low government delivery figures and consistently appeal against intolerance and sectarianism. Helas, we missed another chance by simply calling on people to apologize for tribal utterances contrary to resolution 12 on nation building which was adopted by the 5th SWAPO Party's Congress. How the leadership will deal with the vexing issue of intolerance and sectarianism, including through humiliation of others, will determine whether we will have an annus mirabilis or annus horribilis. For those of us who have been 'set over nations to root out, and to pull down, to destroy, and to throw down, to build and to plant', let us build this Nation and prophesy the bright side, taking into consideration that to be born a nation is a long journey.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


SWAPO Headquarters Mandume Strt
Windhoek, Katutura